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Negotiating with Demons: The Uses of Magical Language
by John L. McCreery
Negotiating with Demons: The Uses of Magical Language
John L. McCreery
Updated: November 29th, 2012
negotiating with demons: the uses of magical language
JOHN L. McCREERY-3rd Creative Division, Hakuhodo, Inc.
In the Sungshan district of Taipei, in the summer of 1976, my tape recorder captured the incantations used by a Taoist healer in performing a rite called chP ngo-kljil ("controlling/propitiating the Five Ghosts"). Transcribed, the recording became a text. This article begins with one deceptively simple question: How should the text be read?
The question is simple; the answer is not. The immediate temptation is to read the text for evidence bearing on issues outside itself. To an anthropologist whose training spanned the late sixties and early seventies and was largely focused on what Adam Kuper (1991) calls "The Modern British School" of social anthropology, the obvious move is to place the text in the context of the ritual in which it occurs and then to consider how key words and symbols relate to the structure of Chinese society (cf. Ahern 1973; Jordan 1972; Sangren 1987; Watson and Rawski 1988; Weller 1987; Wolf 1974). To a reader with an interest in the history of Chinese religion, the work of such scholars as Ofuchi (1 983), Lagerwey (1 987), Liu (1 974), Saso (1 972, 1974,1977), and Schipper (1 974,1982),* suggests other problems: To whatTaoist school does the text belong? What are its antecedents in other Taoist scriptures? These, too, are interesting issues. My purpose here is otherwise. For how a text bears on these or other problems depends first on understanding the text itself. Dislocated from this primary context, assertions about the significance of particular words or phrases are dubious at best.
The next temptation is to read naively. In reading texts, one anthropologist may look for cosmological principles. Another may see a system of social categories, a set of emotional attitudes, or a moral philosophy. Every caution advanced concerning the ways in which anthropologists "read" and render others' cultures (cf. Clifford and Marcus 1986; Geertz 1988; Sperber 1989) applies to the reading of texts. We tend to find what we seek. Then again, we may not. The author is not a trained linguist. Confronted with works such as Peter Metcalf's Where Are You, Spirits (1 989), Steven Feld's Sound and Sentiment (1 982), or Joel Sherzer's Verbal Art in San Blas (1 990), one can only surmise what additional depths might be found in this text by someone better equipped to deal with phonology, syntax, and prosody.
More embarrassing still is the lack of certain data. If che ng6-klii is a ritual, it is also a performance, "the essence of which resides in the assumption of responsibility to an audience for a display of communicative skill" (Bauman 1 992:3).3 As Brenneis (1 987:237) points out, performance involves a deliberately heightened use of language shaped to reflect specific
How should we read the language of magic? As speech acts with performative force? As dramatic metaphor with special, emotional powers? As poetic form whose syntatic restrictions embody a special authority? Or, better still, as all three? This article examines the language employed in a Taoist exorcism performed in
Taiwan and illustrates the need to attend to the multiple uses of language in magical and other performances. [magic, metaphor, performance, performatives, texts, theory]
American Ethnologist 22(1):l44-164. Copyright O 1995, American Anthropological Association
144 american ethnologist
intentions. To understand a performance's effects, we need to grasp the "local theories and understandings that inform [its audience's] response." In reading the text of che ngo-kui, we want to know the terms in which a Taiwanese Taoist healer describes his performance--and those in which his patients describe it.4 We would also I ike to know far more about the problem that brought healer and patient together and occasioned the performance of che ng6-k6i on the night our text was collected. The relevant data do not exist. Preoccupied with other matters, I failed to collect them.
What, then, can be done, besides throwing up our hands in disgust? Like a literary historian confronting the text of an ancient play, we lack direct testimony concerning the intentions of actor and audience. This particular text belongs, however, to a literate tradition some thousands of years old, the object of study by numerous scholars. We know a good deal about the performer and how he came to play the role of Taoist healer. Our text is part of a total performance with many nonverbal components, and here the ethnographer did his job. If anything, our danger is that of drowning in relevant facts; the issue is how to use them. How can we distinguish valid discovery from illusion produced by projecting concepts onto the text that have no solid base within the text?
Like Metcalf, in his study of Berawan prayer, I, too, "am interested in substantiating my interpretations, in building my case that the systems of meaning I hit upon are more than imposed 'symbolic guesses'" (1989:7). Although I agree that "conviction grows when a meaning that is deduced or hypothesized on the basis of one element of ritual or mythology can also be made out in another" (Metcalf 1989:7), I would add that conviction grows stronger still when one interpretation accounts for more detail than another and also accounts for the order in which details occur.
Like Kapferer (1 991 ), I, too, attempt a middle way between structuralist~semiotic approaches and the process/performance orientation of Victor Turner (see, for example, 1969). From both I take a sharp focus on aesthetic detail, that "logic in tangible qualities" (Levi-Strauss 1969:l) which keeps ideas from floating free in pure abstraction. From Turner I take particular concern for the sequence in which the steps of the ritual drama unfold. Accounting for sequence as well as typewhat linguists call syntagmatic as well as paradigmatic relations-in the properties of ritual language adds force to interpretation.
starting from ground zero
I start with a working assumption, nicely stated by Erving Goffman, that applies as well to the presentation of self in ritual as it does to everyday life:
When an individual plays a part he implicitly requests his observers to take seriously the impression that is fostered before them. They are asked to believe that the character they see actually possesses the attributes he appears to possess, that the task he performs will have the consequences that are implicitly claimed for it, and that, in general, matters are what they appear to be. [I 959:l 71
I assume, then, that the healer is doing, in fact, what he seems to be doing: negotiating with demons. He is neither charlatan, preacher, nor pedagogue; nor is he an actor performing a play that he and others know to be fiction. He is what he says he is: a magician, trying to achieve a certain effect in the way he knows best, by magic. This leads me to my larger agenda, the implications of what he says for one of our discipline's oldest conundrums: the magical force or efficacy attributed to magical words.
negotiating with demons 145
three approaches to magical words
When I first began to read this text, I had in mind the proposition that magical utterances are, in essence, the kind of speech actthat British philosopher J. L. Austin (1 965) called "performative utterance^."^ In reading the text of chP ngo-kOi, however, Ifound that only some of the sections into which the text is divided seemed intended to have the automatic effects characteristic of true performatives. The "nonperformative" rest sewed instead to create the conditions in which the performative sections would be effe~tive.~
Now the question "What is the healer trying to do?" led to a more persuasive answer. In che ngo-kQi the healer's performance dramatizes the negotiations through which he persuades the demons to accept the social contract that gives him power over them. Then, and only then, does the exorcism proceed. This reading was clear-but still too skeletal. Even spelled out in detail, it revealed only the bare bones of speech. The imagery that brings them to life was missing.
The realization that, at least in the case of che ng6-kui, magical words are rhetoric led me, then, to a second approach epitomized in the work of Fernandez (1986), who argues that ritual should be conceived of as metaphor in action and, further, that metaphor is a way in which speakers move their subjects around in a multidimensional cultural space. I began with observation of the characters in the ritual drama and noted that their presentation by the healer changed remarkably as the drama unfolded. The question, then, was how the healer's verbal imagery first situated the healer himself, his patient, the ghosts who afflicted the patient, the scapegoat who took the patient's place, and the gods who sanctioned the whole performance, and-here is the heart of the matter-how his verbal imagery transformed the relationships that determined who and what these characters were.
There remained, however, an unresolved issue. By reading through the healer's words to the acts they performed and the imagery they evoked, was I not neglecting the words themselves and the language in which we find them embedded? At some points in chP ngo-kui, the healer speaks simply and clearly. His tone is casual, barely polite. When addressing the gods his phrasing becomes more elaborate, his syntax more tightly controlled. At certain key moments his language becomes rigidly formulaic. The medium itself conveys a message, but what do these variations mean? Why do different steps in the ritual process seem to require different degrees of formality? Formality may be a mechanism for assembling powerful images (Rosaldo 1975; Tambiah 1968). It may also be a sign of authority, a gesture or tone that compels submission (Bloch 1974). In either case, a careful look at all the healer's speech styles and the sequence in which they occur will deepen our understanding of both the text and the rite in which its words appear (Tambiah 1968).
Beginning with a literal reading to establish a framework, painting in the metaphorical colors and movements that bring its message to life, and, finally, turning to what we might call the poetics of authority-the selection of styles appropriate to the messages beingcommunicated- not only produces a richer description of one particular rite, it demonstrates how speech acts, metaphors, and levels of formality interact to create the impression the Taoist healer wants to make.
the healer and his patients
Ong Kok-hui describes himself as an dng-thdu hoat-su ("Red-Head Master of Magic") who belongs to the Thian-su phai("Heavenly Master-sect") of Taoism. He is certified by the Republic of China's Taoist Association as a t2i hoar-su ("great magician"). It wou Id, however, be a mistake to envision Ong as exercising well-defined priestly prerogatives. He is, in fact, a man who has lived-and prospered-by his wits, his powers of persuasion, and his skill in manipulating
146 american ethnologist
informal social relationships.' Ong was born into a poor family in a market town in central Taiwan, where during his teens he acquired a reputation as a wild boy and wastrel. Then, during the festival celebrating a god's birthday, he became possessed. The god demanded that Ong become a spirit-medium. Ong rejected this role but vowed to serve the gods in other ways.$
When we met in 1970, Ong was the discipleof another Taoist healerwith whom I had worked during my first fieldwork in Taiwan. He had left the small town where his master lived and moved to Taipei, where he and his brothers had established a small shoe factory. He had, at the same time, tried to start a spirit-medium cult in which he was both the trainer and interpreter for a medium possessed, oddly enough, by Sakyamuni, the historical B~ddha.~
When that cult failed, he went into partnership with another man to found a second cult, which seemed more promising. This time, his partner, who owned the building in which the cult's temple was located, pushed him out.
Then, in 1974, after a series of visions of the goddess Ma-ch6-Taiwan's most popular deity--Ong moved to a newly developing, outlying district of Taipei. There hegathered a dozen sworn brothers (including two women) to form the nucleus of a temple committee. With their help, he founded a temple dedicated to Ma-cho. This time his efforts were rewarded. When I met him for the second time, in 1977, this new cult was flourishing.
Ong had settled in an area that only a few short years before had been covered with rice paddies. Now they were being replaced by five- and six-story concrete apartment buildings. The majority of those who lived in the area were recent immigrants from central and southern Taiwan, familiar with the kind of ritual services that Ong offered. After only four years of operation his client records already listed 1,500 addresses-and the list was growing daily.
The majority of Ong's clients were married women, worried about their children's, their husbands', or their own illnesses, or other troubles. To identify the source of their problems, Ong often used a divination technique called bi-koa. In bi-koa divination, Ong first asks his clienttopray to Ma-ch6. As sheprays, hecircles the buttofa writing brush in a plate of uncooked rice and murmurs an incantation. His client then takes two pinches of rice from the center of the plate. From each pinch Ong removes eight grains at a time until eight or fewer are left. The result is an ordered pair of numbers that indicates one of the 64 hexagrams from the I-Ching [MI ("Classic of Changes"). Instead of the I-Ching itself, Ong turns to a notebook in which he has written the names of demons associated with each hexagram.
Having identified the demons, Ong then asks if his patient knows how to deal with them. When, as usually happens, she says no, he offers to perform the rite called chP-soah ("controllingpropitiating demons") or, in its more fully realized form, che ng6-kui ("controlling/propiti- ating the Five ghost^")'^ for her. If she agrees, he then directs her to light three sticks of incense, stand in the street, facing away from his temple, and pray to the demons. In her prayer, she identifies herself dnd vows that appropriate offerings will be made.
the setting and the scene
Some days later, Ong performs the promised rite in the street in front of his temple. To understand the way the ritual scene is set, we must first understand the space in which it occurs. Thetemple itself is a storefront on the ground floor of a multistoried apartment building. Its main altar is situated in the back of the storefront, facing the street. In the center of the altar is a large statue of Ma-cho, flanked by statues of other gods. The statue of Ma-cho is the focal point around which the temple's space is organized. A point to her left is higher in rank than one to her right.
negotiating with demons 147
One closer to the goddess ranks higher than one farther away. Of particular importance is the threshold that divides the temple's sacred interior from the profane world of the street.
For each of the patients for whom Ong performs che ngo-kOi, he prepares shallow baskets in which he places images of the demons, a the-sin ("substitute") that serves as the patient's scapegoat, and offerings to them. These baskets are then put (1)on the ground, (2) in the street, and (3) to the goddess's right. This location signals low status. At the same time it positions the demons and substitute outside the temple, beyond the pale of divine authority, where they remain until divination reveals that the demons accept the offerings. Only then does Ong bring them inside the temple, where they feel the full weight of divine authority during the final exorcism.
Ong's gestures exploit and amplify the meanings conveyed by these spatial arrangements. Initially, when he addresses the demons, and again when he consecrates the substitute, he stands in the street and bends down, towering over their images. When he turns to invoke the gods he remains standing. He looks into the temple and upward toward the gods on their altar. His superiority to the demons and his deference to the gods are clearly marked. When Ong first addresses the demons, he holds three sticks of incense in both hands but allows their burning tips to incline toward the demons' images. When he invokes the gods, they point straight upward, away from the gods. Then, while consecrating the substitute, he grasps the incense sticks in his right hand and, wielding them like a writing brush, points their burning tips directly at the substitute's image. His gestures convey respect for the gods, a low degree of respect for the demons, and imperious rudeness toward the substitute. When Ong divines the demons' response, he stands on his temple's threshold, casually holding the incense in his right hand, while he tosses divining blocks intothe streetwith his left. His position now marks the transition from negotiating with the demons to driving them away. The casual way in which he holds the incense fits the bantering tone in which he now speaks to them. Finally, Ong lays the incense aside. He grasps the images of the demons and substitute and takes them inside the temple. There, as he passes them over his patient's body, his gestures cast both demons and substitute as impotent creatures who must, therefore, obey his commands."
of images and offerings
In the simpler version of the ritual, a basket is lined with keng-i ("sacred clothes"), strips of coarse brown paper on which images of clothing and household utensils are printed in green ink. The names of the demons and their victim-the afflicted patient-are written on a piece of paper fixed to a pair of bamboo splints and set in a bundle of hok-kim ("lucky gold"). This centerpiece is flanked by red candles set in two bundles of sio-gin ("small silver").
When the demons in question are the ngo-kui ("five ghosts"), thian-kdu ("heavenly dog"), and p&h-ho ("white tiger"), who cause severe misfortunes such as miscarriages and traffic accidents, they are represented by individual paper dolls. The dolls that represent the ghosts are human in form, but satanic horns and their nakedness-they are clothed only in fur kilts--show that the ghosts are barely human. Like the heavenly dog and white tiger, they, too, are wild, asocial creatures. The substitute is a doll made of rice straw, dressed in a shirt worn by the patient. It is placed on the ground, outside the basket that contains the demons' images, and receives separate offerings of food and spirit money.
Offerings and images reinforce the meanings implicit in spatial arrangements and Ong's gestures. In Taiwan, as everywhere in the world, offerings of food are a means of establishing social relationships, a gift that draws people together. Commensality implies a common humanity. Money, in contrast, is a means of payment that maintains social distance. When debts are paid with money, the relationships that debts imply cease to exist.'*
148 american ethnologist
In performing chi. ngo-kui, Ong must first establish a relationship with the demons, for only then can he pay them off and drive them away. In his opening address to the demons he mentions both food and spirit money. Then, when divining the demons' response and urging them to accept the offerings and go away, he adds more spirit money--but not more food. Finally, when he has transferred his patient's sickness to the demons' images and the substitute, the offerings of spirit money are burned along with them, while the offerings of food are withdrawn.
Food symbolizes shared humanity, but this basic meaning is qualified by the kinds of food that Ong offers to the demons. Generally speaking, in Chinese rituals, raw, whole foods symbolize thin, distant relationships, while foods that are cooked, cut up, and seasoned symbolize more intimate connections. In che ngo-kQi we have two types of food, plain cooked rice and a chopped green vegetable on the one hand, and raw pork, egg, and bean curd on the other. One type is typical of offerings to ghosts, the other of offerings to the spirit soldiers who accompany gods. In both cases minimal preparation implies a minimal, distant relationship.
Keng-i, sio-gin, and hok-kim are generally offered to wandering ghosts, ancestors, and minor gods, respectively. The offering of all three reflects the demons' shadowy, undefined nature and their function as a catchall explanation for misfortune. Negative as well as positive analogies link substitutes to the patients they represent. Both paper and straw, which are meant to be burned, contrast with a patient's body, whose health the rite is intended to preserve. The use of straw to make a substitute adds a deeper contrast between the disposable straw and the grain that in Taiwan, as elsewhere in East Asia, is considered the staff of life.
the absence of music
In chir ngo-kui, the music that plays a profound and vital role in larger, public Taoist rites13 is absent. Nodrums roll, no cymbals clang, no oboes shrill. The reson for this absence is unclear. The exclusion of music may simply reduce the cost of a minor and frequently performed rite. Perhaps, too, music marks public celebration. This rite is a piece of private business.
addressing the demons
In the performance of che ngo-kdi, Ong's words and gestures fall naturally into five discrete acts: addressing the demons; invoking the gods; consecrating the substitute; divining the demons' response; and, finally, pronouncing the exorcism.
In addressing the demons, Ong lights three sticks of incense, bows over a basket of offerings and images, and murmurs the following words:
Phi-chhii* Ilj-lo t6ng-chli. Bowing, we invite the Roving Youths.
Te-chO si Lim A-chu. Your disciple is Lim A-chu.
Cheng-jit-kan kah li t2u-he-e, As you were promised a few days ago,
Kin-a-jit te-ch0 seng-sim keng-i Today, your disciple has sincerely and respectfully
Keng li6ng-sin kiat-jit Chosen a fortunate time and lucky day
Chai pun-t6a* pi-pan To prepare at this temple
Pan-khi sam-seng chhhi-png, kim-gin ch2i-pb. Three meats, rice, and vegetables, and a treasure of gold and silver.
Chai pun-t6a* liht-liit chun sin bin-cheng In the presence of all this temple's rank on rank of kah-li tap-sia. gods, to compensate you.
Nia-khi liau-au, khi goa-hong tho-chiih. Take these offerings and then go elsewhere to beg your food.
In this speech Ong invokes the demons, identifies his patient, recalls her promise, and asserts itsfulfillment.Then hedemandsthatthedemons take his patient'sofferings and leave her alone.
negotiatingwith demons 149
Ong's salutation to the demons (line 1) includes, first, the respectful formula Pai-chhia* ("Bowing, we invite") and, then, the name 112-bt6ng-chlj ("Roving Youths"). The name lir-lo t6ng-chQ implies that the demons in question are wanderers with no specific kin or territorial affiliations, outsiders vis-a-vis the social groups in which their victim is firmly rooted. Empha- sizing this distinction, Ong identifies his patient by her given name, to which he sometimes adds her address and the year, month, day, and hour in which she was born. This information fixes her position-in a fami ly, in space, and in time. Note, too, that he characterizes each and every item as a circumstance beyond her control.
In this speech the word te-ch~j ("disciple") refers to the patient who has, it seems, offended the demons. This self-subordination is coupled directly in line 4 with sincerity and respect, attitudes appropriate for someone begging a favor. At this point in the rite Ong does not identify himself. He confines himself to speaking on behalf of his patient, thereby minimizing his own involvement.
His argument in lines 3-8 first calls the demons' attention to the promise his patient made a few days earlier and then asserts that she has now fulfilled it. She has, moreover, chosen a propitious time to present her offerings. The temple's gods are his witnesses. His conclusion in line 9 follows with simple logic: he demands that the demons take the offerings and leave his patient alone.
The use of special vocabulary marks this speech as ritual. Examples include the demons' name and certain set phrases-seng-sim keng-i ("sincerely and respectfully"), li8ng-sin kiat-jit ("fortunate time and lucky day"), sam-seng chhai-pEg ("three meats, vegetables, and rice), and kim-gin chsi-po ("gold and silver treasure"&-normally found only in ritual contexts.
The final demand to "take these offerings and then go elsewhere to beg your food" is remarkable for its bluntness, which contrasts sharply with the conciliatory tone of the preceding lines. Now Ong's tone is rude. By telling the demons to beg for offerings, he implies that they are, after all, only beggars.
invoking the gods
Turning his back on the demons, Ong now faces the gods arrayed on his temple's altar and chants a series of invocations. The following relatively brief invocation to Hian-thian-sidng-ti! ("Supreme Ruler of the Dark Heaven") is only one example from the series.
Kin-chhii* ~ak-kek 0-soah Chiong, I earnestly invite the Black Demon General of the North Pole,
Hoa-sin Chin Bu Tai Chiong-kun, Who became the True Military Great General,
Sin-tRg ban hok kiu se-kan, Who spreads ten thousand blessings and saves the world,
Thong-lOng thian-peng b6 s6 ban, Who commands innumerable heavenly soldiers,
Sa*-chip lak i3* soi ng6 soan, The thirty-six camps obey your/my14 commands.
Ji tho soa*-hoat tsam iau-chia*, Slayer of demons with unbound hair,
Chhiu chip hAng-mb chhit seng kiam, Whose hand grasps a seven-starred, demon- destroying sword,
Kha thap ang-si3 pat-kba ku. Whose feet trample the snake and the tortoise.
Jiok io put suun ngo hoat-chi, If any daredisobey my lawful commands,
Ngo si lok-hBng sin thek-su I received the Jade Emperor's personal commission
Seng tsam, ha cho pian thian-hi. To slay first and then report, to reform the world.
Te-chli it-sim choan-pii-chhii,* Your disciple with deepest sincerity prays,
Pai-chhii* Pak-k&k Hi3n-thian-siang-te Bowing to invite the Supreme Lord of the North sok kang l3i lim. Pole and Dark Heaven to quickly draw near.
SFn-peng h&-kip ji lit IOng. Let divine soldiers, quickly as fire, obey lawful
150 american ethnologist
This speech has three overtfunctions: tocharacterize thegod, toclaim authority for Ong himself, and to ask the god for his presence. It is also a threat. If the demons are uncooperative, they will certainly be destroyed.
In contrast to the shadowy demons, the gods are elaborately described. Here, the title employed in line 1 alludes to beliefs that associate Hi%n-thian-si~ng-tt.
with the pole star, the north, the color black, and demonic powers. Line 2 refers to his name being changed from Hi;in-bu ("Dark Military") to Chin-b~?("True Military") by the Sung emperor Cheng Tsung (A.D. 998-1 023); the character Hiin appeared in the emperor's name and was thus taboo. Lines 34 are relatively colorless epithets that might be associated with any of the divine generals to whom Ong addresses his invocations. Lines 6-8 refer to characteristic features of the god's iconogra- phy: unbound hair, a seven-starred sword, and the snake and tortoise whom he tramples with bare feet.I5
Lines 5 and 9-1 1 are ambiguous. The first person singular pronoun ngo might refer either to the god--or to Ong himself. Read one way, these lines add to the characterization of the god as a powerful general. Alternately read, they claim extraordinary authority for Ong himself. The "thirty-six camps" are 36 stars, the gods who inhabit them, and the armies they command. The Jade Emperor is the ruler of Heaven, the divine analogue of the emperors who once ruled all of China. In this speech Ong overtly speaks to the god, but what he says conveys an implicit threat to the demons who hear that a powerful heavenly general will come to Ong's aid, a deity described in terms that leave no doubt that death and destruction await anyone who opposes his wishes.
As Ong invokes the gods, his words depict vividly drawn, colorful individuals who emerge in striking contrast to both his precisely identified, but otherwise colorless, patient and the shadowy demons who plague her. His use of concrete imagery anticipates his goal: to invoke the gods' presence. Here, rhetorical effect, mystical belief, and the logic of social relations reinforce each other.I6 Earlier in the rite, while speaking to the demons, Ong did not identify himself. Here, he refers to himself as the gods' disciple but still withholds his own identity. He will not name himself until he claims authority in his own right, while consecrating the substitute.
In Ong's opening address to the demons only special vocabulary and set phrases mark his language as ritual. Here he speaks in verse instead of prose. Except for line 13-and even here the god's elaborate title seems to function as a unit-he speaks in regular seven-syllable lines, which sometimes rhyme (see, for example, lines 1-2, 3-5, 6-7, 8-1 0).
consecrating the substitute
When Ong has finished invoking the gods, he turns to the substitute, the scapegoat who will take the place of his patient and bear away her misfortunes. Grasping three sticks of incense in his right hand, he wields them likea writing brush, passing their burning tips overthe substitute, and murmurs the following incantation:
Chhun-chh6-jin, Chhun-chh6-jin, Spring grass man, Spring grass man,
Bu-kah sin, Bu-kah bin, ?-? body, ?-?I7face,
Bb khai-kong, bb tiim-gin, b6 sit-l6ng. Unless I consecrate you, unless I dot your eyes, you cannot live.
lii khai-kong, in sit-l0ng. If I consecrate you, then you live.
Khai-kong li6u-au, ti6n sin-thong After I consecrate you, then you will manifest
Hoat-su Ong Phok-lam Iii khai-kong, The master of magic Ong Phok-lam will
Kah-li khai-kong, tiam-gin. Consecrate you and dot your eyes.
Ch6-gin khai! in-gin khai! Left eye open! Right eye open!
Ch6-ji* khai! iii-ji* khai! Left ear open! Right ear open!
negotiating with demons 151
Hd li chhui phi* kha chhilj, go%n chai.
Hib-e koa* mAg li sim-mih si I%i choan-se,
Kio-cho Lim A-chu,
Tang-ni%n, tang-gdh, tang-jit, tang-si I2i si*.
Te-ch6 th%u-tiong io pi*; kui-li th%u-tiong i.
Sim-tiong in pi*; kui-li sim-tiong khi.
Ng6-chdng, liok-hlj iu pi*; kui-li ng6-chong, libk-hlj F.
Siong chhilj in pi*; kui-li siong chhilj khi.
Siong kha io pi*; kui-li siong kha khi.
Ch6 keng tam hiong sin.
lo keng tam ok-soah.
Tam li-li! Tam khi-khi!
Tam khi LT-song Tang-h6i khi
SFn-peng h&-kip ji Iht I@ng.
I have given you nose, mouth, legs and hands, all complete. When those officials ask you when you were
Say you are Lim A-chu,
Born in such-and-such a year, such-and-such a month, such-and-such a day, such-and-such an hour. The disciple's head is sick; its sickness goes to
Her heart is sick; its sickness goes to your heart.
Her organs and viscera are sick; their sickness
goes to yours.
Her hands are sick; their sickness goes to your
Her legs are sick; their sickness goes to your legs.
Your left shoulder carries away the harmful spirits.
Your right shoulder carries away the hateful
Carry them far! Carry them away! Carry them away to Luzon, to the Eastern Sea. Let divine soldiers, quickly as fire, obey lawful
In this speech Ong declares that the substitute is his creature. He then identifies himself and proceeds to consecrate the substitute. Having brought it to life, he transfers his patient's troubles to it and then commands it to bear them away.
When Ong addresses the demons, he prefaces their names with the words pai-chhia* ("bow and invite"). In his invocation of Hiin-thian-sidng-te he employs the phrase kin-chhia* ("respectfully invite"). In his speech to the substitute there is no polite formula. He addresses the substitute peremptorily, simply repeating its name; he speaks like an adult addressing a child. Note, too, that the substitute's name is only three syllables long, while the demons' name has four, and thetitles used in addressing thegods have five syllables or more. Increasing length implies increasing respect, while abbreviation implies the opposite.
When hespoketothe demons and again when invoking thegods,Ong did not identify himself by name. Here, at last, when he consecrates the substitute, he finally identifies himself as the "master of magic Ong Phok-lam." Phok-lam is the cult name he acquired from the priest whom he recognizes as the teacher from whom he learned his art. Both his cult name and his title of "master of magic" reflect achieved, instead of ascribed, status. This stands in contrast to his patient's given name.
The officials to whom he alludes in line 11 are the rulers of Hell and their minions. If the patient were to die of her sickness, they would judge her sins and prescribe appropriate punishments. It is to them, too, that spirits who have a grievance against her take their case, seeking revenge. The commands by which Ong awakens the substitute and transfers sickness from his patient are formulaic in the extreme, fixed patterns in which the substitution of "head," "heart," "organs and viscera," "hands," and "legs" drives home the image of sickness transferred from patient to scapegoat. These formulaic expressions mark the highest degree of rigidity attained by Ong's speeches.
divining the demons' response
To this point, Ong has spoken to the demons and offered them compensation to leave his patient alone; threatened the demons' destruction through invocation of the gods; and, in the third step ofthe rite, consecrated a substitute and commanded it to take its victim's place. Now he speaks again to the demons, bribing them with extra offerings of spirit money and tossing divining blocks to determine whether they are willing to accept the compensation he offers to
152 american ethnologist leave his patient alone. The divining blocks are standard equipment in Chinese ritual. Wooden crescents, they are round on one side and flat on the other. If they fall with one round and one flat side up, yin and yang are in balance, and the spirits' response is favorable. To be sure of the demons' intentions, Ong requires three such replies in a row.
Ong usually performs several che ngo-kiri rites simultaneously. In these cases, he prepares separate offerings and images for each of his patients and also speaks separately to the demons and to the substitutes the images represent. Now, however, he lumps the demons together, asking one group to represent them all. His tone is informal, even jocular.
Id-lo tbng-chu, Roving Youths,
Eng-Am chia-e h6 hi*-ti-a k6i ch6. Tonight these good brothers will change their ways.
Li l2i cho tai-piau. You act as their representative.
Leng-goa chit-ki ho li cho so-hiri. I'll give you something extra for your expenses.
Chia sa* ki hO h6 hia*-ti pun. I give these three packets [of spirit money]; divide them among the good brothers.
Kib i n tang-hng khi. Tell them to go to the east.
M6a-i? Sa* seng-poe. Satisfied? Then three positive tosses.
Chiong sin cho ch6. The gods will be our guarantors.
Ong then tosses the divining blocks. If one response is positive, he then says,
9. M6a-i? Koh ring-e. Satisfied? Two more.
If the second toss is also positive, he then says,
10. M6a-i? Koh chit-e. Satisfied? One more.
If at any pointthe response is negative, he returns to line 6 and changes direction: if thedemons will not flee to the east, then perhaps they can be induced to go south or west. After three or four negative replies, Ong adds more packets of spirit money to the demons' "expenses." He continues in this manner until he receives three consecutive positive tosses.
Diviningthe demons' response is the pivotal act in cht. ngo-kQi. It is also a vivid demonstration that Keane's description ofAnakalang marriage negotiations also applies to this Chinese healing rite: "If ritual speech is a form of social action, it must entail the prospect of failing, and may even require that such failure be imaginable" (1991 :311). This moment in che ngo-kui is often tense, especially if it takes many tosses to get three positive replies in a row. When this happens, Ong assumes an exasperated tone, then a mocking one, as he suggests first one direction and then another, while adding increasingly more spirit money until the demons are satisfied.
The language ofthis speech isextremely informal, a sharpcontrast to the formulaic utterances used to consecrate the substitute. Here, Ong addresses the demons rudely; there is no polite phi-chhia* ("bow and invite") before the demons' name. Except for the name 16-10 t8ng-chu ("Roving Youths"), theonly distinctively ritual vocabulary isthe noun phrase ho hid*-U-a("good brothers") and the term seng-poe ("divining blocks"), which refer to positive replies.
H6 hi a*-t~-a ("good brothers") is a common euphemism for hungry, homeless ghosts with no filial descendants to worship them as ancestors. By speaking only to a representative and lumping the rest of the demons together under this general label, Ong not only displays contempt for them, he also obliterates what little individuality their separate images might give them. Still, the rite cannot proceed until they agree to accept the offerings. Here, when his need for their cooperation is most apparent, he once again makes no reference to himself.
pronouncing the exorcism
When the demons have agreed to accept the offerings, Ong proceeds to exorcise them. He tells his patient to stand inside the temple with her back to the gods on its main altar. Then he seizes the demons' images and the substitute and, holding them together in his right hand, passes
negotiating with demons 153
them over his patient's body. He chants the following incantation. The first part is addressed to
Thian-I6 sin, te-16 sin,
Bu-kah sin, bu-kah brn.
BB khai-kong, b6 sit-l6ng.
lo khai-kong, io sit-l6ng.
Khai-kong liiu-au, ti6n sin-thong.
Phi-chhia* li6t-li6t chun sin lii thoat-sin.
Cho-su Iii thoat-sin.
Ji-su Iii thoat-sin.
P$-su Idi thoat-sin.
10.y thoat pat lang sin.
1 1. M thoat pat lang jin.
Te-chu th2u-tiong icj pi*; thiu-tiong thoe.
Sim-tiong io pi*; thoe siau-ti.
Teng-t6 io pi*; teng-t6 thoe.
E-to in pi*; thoe siau-ti.
Tai-chhiing io pi*; tai-chhiing thbe.
Si6-chhi2ng icj pi*; thoe siau-ti.
Siong chhib icj pi*; siong chhilj thoe.
Siong kha iu pi*; thoe siau-ti.
Ni-tiong icj soah; ni-tiong thoe.
Goeh-tiong icj soah; th& siau-ti.
Jit-tiongicj soah; Jit-tiong thk.
ST-tiong icj soah, th& siau-ti.
Thoat khi-khi, thoat li-li.
Thoat-ti sin-tiong pah-pi* chin siau-ti.
B6 chai, b6 e.
Siu-goan chiah kdu pah ji.
Jit-si h6 thit-th6, am-si h6 am-bin.
Sin-tiong chia*-gdh chai, ji-goeh e,
Sa*-gdh chai, si-gobh e,
G6-gokh chai, lak-gdh e,
~hhit-gdh chai, peh-gdh e,
~au-gobh chai, ch6p-gdh e,
chip-it-gdh chai, chip-jr-gdh e,
Chip-sa* gdh e, hiong-sin, ok-soah,
Sin-tiong tho6n-ji6m pi*-chgng,
Thi* sa*-chip lak thian-kong,
T6 chhit-ch6p ji thoah,
Chihu thoat-khi, chiiu thoat-li.
Thoat-tit Li-song Tang-h6i khi.
Pe-ki6* b6 siong heng. 06-kid* b6 siong khek.
Spirits of heaven, spirits of earth,
?-? body, ?-? face.18
Without my consecration, you have no power.
If I consecrate you, I have power.
After consecration, you display spiritual powers. I bow and pray to the gods arrayed here to save her.
Our founder comes to save her.
The second master comes to save her.
This master comes to save her. Don't save any other body. Don't save any other person.
They go to you.
Your disciple's head is sick; the sickness leaves her head. Her heart's sickness goes completely away. Her upper belly is sick; the sickness leaves her upper belly. Her lower belly is sick; the sickness goes completely away. Her large intestine is sick; the sickness leaves her large intestine. His small intestine is sick; the sickness goes completely away. Her hands are sick; the sickness leaves her hands. Her legs are sick; the sickness goes completely away. They go to you. The year has demons; they leave the year. The month's demons go completely away. The day has demons; they leave the day. The hour's demons go completely away. They go away. Far away. Every sickness goes away, goes truly away. No calamities, no misfortunes. She will live to be one hundred and twenty. Her days will be joyful. She will sleep well at night. They go to you. All her first-month calamities, second-month misfortunes, Third-month calamities, fourth-month misfortunes, Fifth-month calamities, sixth-month misfortunes, Seventh-month calamities, eighth-month misfortunes, Ninth-month calamities, tenth-month misfortunes, Eleventh-month calamities, twelfth-month misfortunes, Thirteenth-month misfortunes, harmful spirits, hatefu I demons, all will be obliterated.
They go to you.
All infectious diseases, Roving Youths, Heaven's thirty-six harmful gods, Earth's seventy-two demons, Wipe them out! Wipe them away. Send them away to Luzon, to the Eastern Sea. They go away and Father and child do not clash. Mother and child have no conflict.
Hia*-ti b6 siong h6ng. Chi-moai b6 siong khek. Brothers do not clash. Sisters have no conflict.
A-kong b6 siong h@ng. A-m6 b6 siong khek. Grandfather does not clash. Grandmother has no conflict.
H@ng i, h@ng thai-san, Khek i, khek tOa h6i. To clash with her will be like clashing with Mr. Tai. To oppose her will be like opposing the ocean.
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Siu pi Ism san, Hok ji tang-h6i. Her life will be as long as that of the southern mountains. Her fortune will be as great as the eastern sea.
Chhut-mAg h0 ling siong chi0 mng. When she goes out, people will greet her.
Chhut tang-sai-Iim-pak, khi-jin chhut-hian. Whether she goes east, west, north, or south,
valuable allies will appear.
So-so son li, ban-so kah-i. Everything will go smoothly, everything will be as she wishes.
Lbk-mi* b6 chrn. Her wealth will be limitless.
SFn-peng h&-kip ji Ibt I@ng. Let divine soldiers, quickly as fire, obey lawful
As Ong's voice crescendos to his final shout, he sweeps the substitute and the demons' images over his patient's body once more. As heends with the shout "Ho*!!" he stamps his right foot. His patient steps over flames fed by seven sheets of spirit money. Che ngo-kui is over.
This final chant is, in essence, an elaborated version of the earlier incantation with which Ong consecrated the substitute. Now, however, he lumps the demons and substitute together, applying the same words and gestures to both. If the demons are now identified with the substitute, Ong himself is now identified with thegods. He is linked to them by a line of descent and, like them, fills the verbal frame: -thoat-sin ("-comes to save her"). This chant is composed almost entirely of commands expressed in rigidly formulaic language. Note, however, that some of the positive wishes, for example, lbk-ma* b6 chrn ("her wealth will be boundless"), may be less rigidly patterned than the negative commands with which Ong transfers sickness or misfortune from his patient to the demons and substitute.
so, what is going on here?
In his classic How to Do Things with Words (1 965), J.L. Austin notes that language is, more often than not, used to do something in the world and not just to say something about it. He then goes on to isolate what he calls "performative utterances." In this class of speech acts, words are literally actions; provided, that is, "(1 ) that the speaker is properly qualified, (2) that he correctly follows a certain procedure, and (3) that this procedure is appropriate for the situation in which he speaks them, his words automatically have their intended effect" (Austin 1965:8).
A number of scholars have found in Austin's concept a plausible way to interpret magical incantations (see, for example, Foster 1974; Tambiah 1968, 1973; Skorupski 1976). The proposition thatmagical wordswill workonly ifspoken by specially qualified people, following certain exact procedures, in precisely specified situations, and that then they will work automatically, is a premise familiar from fantasy games and folktales, as well as from ethno- graphic studies.
In che ngo-klii, Ong is trying to cure his patient. She has turned to him for help because he claims to be a special sort of person, a tai hoat-su, a Taoist master with the esoteric knowledge and spiritual connections necessary to perform the rite. Will the rite be effective? According to Ong it will-provided, of course, that the rite is performed correctly. If the rite is ineffective, the fault lies in flaws in performance or in circumstances over which the hoat-su has no control.
In the exorcism that ends chP ng6-klii, as in consecrating the substitute, Ong speaks as if his words will produce immediate effect, as if exercising absolute authority. In his other speeches, however, we hear a different voice--a voice negotiating with demons to create the authority without which the exorcism would have no effect.
The first three acts define a situation: in addressing the demons, Ong calls their attention to a bargain. His patient has promised offerings, and now they are ready. The demons should take them and leave his patient alon+a simple quid pro quo. Ong then invokes the gods. To the
negotiating with demons 155
quid pro quo he adds a threat: he insinuates that this is a bargain the demons cannot afford to refuse. Then, in consecrating the substitute, he demonstrates his power-the power to bring the substitute to life and then consign it to Hell.
The substitute, however, is Ong's own creation. The demons still have a will of their own. Before Ong can banish the demons, he must first divine their response and, if their response is negative, increase his offerings until the demons are satisfied. This act is the one on which the ritual drama pivots. By accepting theofferings, thedemons accept the social contract that makes the final exorcism effective. Until they accept the bargain they are offered, the exorcism cannot proceed.
There is, however, more to the language of Ong's performance than a means of performing speech acts. His promises, threats, and declarations are embedded in vivid imagery. Through imagery he brings the ritual drama to life. In exploring this side of the text, I turn from Austin on speech acts to Fernandez on metaphor. Fernandez defines metaphor as "a strategic predication upon an inchoate pronoun (an I, a you, a we, a they) that makes a movement and leads to performance" (1986:8). Pronouns refer to social actors, to persons, to selves who are known primarily through what is predicated of them. Some predicates are definitions-they assign locations in a static system of categories. Metaphors mix categories and thus induce movements across categorical boundaries. We must note, too, that metaphors have more than cognitive uses. They affect feelings as well as thoughts. They evoke a response and motivate action.
Implicit in these assertions is "a topographic view of culture and society" in which culture is conceived as "a quality space of 'n' dimensions" (Fernandez 1986:8) and social interaction is a matter of persons shifting each other around within this space. Metaphors can elevate their subjects-and often demote them. In chi. ng6-kOi, Ong's rhetoric does both, combining word and gesture in ways that raise his own position while lowering that of the demons.
The cast of che ng6-kOi includes five kinds of actors: the patient, the demons, the substitute, the gods, and Ong himself. At the beginning ofthe rite, the gods sit on the altar inside the temple: their place is back, center, elevated-the place of greatest authority. The substitute sits on the ground outside the temple, off to one side-the place of lowest subordination. The images of the Five Ghosts sit beside the substitute, slightly raised. In contrast to the substitute, they sit in a basket, separated from the naked earth. In addressing the demons, Ong stands outside the temple, facing outward, his back to all the images: substitute, demons, and gods alike. His manner is respectful. Invokingthe gods, he steps insidethe templeand faces inward. His manner is even more respectful. Returning outside and bending over to consecrate the substitute, he behaves in a rude and peremptory manner. Divining the demons' response, he straddles the threshold between the inside and outside of the temple. His manner is ambivalent; crouching over the fire in front of the demons' images, he bows slightly as he offers more spirit money, then straightens up as he tosses the divining blocks. Then, in the final exorcism, he seizes the images of the substitute and the demons, takes them inside the temple, and passes them over his patient's body before they are taken outside and burned. His manner is both fierce and controlled, the embodiment of authority. His words elaborate these gestures.
In his opening address to the demons Ong states his patient's given names: the surname she inherited from her ancestors and the personal name her parents selected for her. Then he may add her address and the year, month, day, and hour of her birth. He refers to his patient as the demons' disciple and describes her as having prepared offerings to fulfill the promise that she has made to them. Later, when consecrating the substitute, Ong commands the substitute to
156 american ethnologist
adopt his patient's name and the birth time used in fortune-telling. These items embody her destiny, the core of her identity.
Overall, Ong's description of his patient is precise but dry, lacking the colorful details that make the gods distinct personalities. Her actionjmaking a promise and preparing to fulfill it-are entirely in the past. Her subsequent role in the ritual drama is totally passive. She is, and remains, the victim of circumstances beyond her control. The substitute is also a victim. It, too, is passive, at the mercy of others. Its name, Chhun-chho-jin ("Spring Grass Man"), pointedly emphasizes that the substitute is only straw. Ong argues with implacable logic that without his consecration the substitute would remain a lifeless doll.
In contrast to both his patient and the substitute, the gods whom Ong invokes are active and colorful. Their elaborate titles are rewards for extraordinary personal accomplishments. They spread blessings, command armies, wield swords or other demon-destroying weapons. Frag- ments of myth or history and details of iconography give thegodsdistinct personalities captured in vivid images. In describing the gods, Ong's language anticipates the divine presence for which he prays.
In contrast to both his precise identification of his patient and the substitute and his colorful descriptions of the gods, Ong says very little about the demons. When he calls them 16-10 t6ng-chli ("Roving Youths") he implies that they are wanderers who rove aimlessly over the earth. Later, when he calls them ho hia*-tr-a ("Good Brothers"), he is using a euphemism for homeless, hungry ghosts, without thesocial attachments thatwould distinguish them as honored ancestors. They are clearly outsiders, detached from the social, spatial, and temporal frame- works in which the patient's identity is anchored. Referred to collectively, they lack the gods' vividly drawn, individual personalities.
At best, the demons are shadowy beings. As the ritual progresses, Ong's language deprives them of even the meager distinctions their names imply. When he first addresses the demons, Ong names and speaks separately to those who afflict each of his patients. Later, when he divines the demons' response, they are addressed as a group. Then, in the final exorcism, he conflates them with the substitute. Both are now collectively diminished by the utterly vague and wholly impersonal words thian-16 sin, te-16 sin ("spirits of heaven, spirits of earth"). Here again, Ong's language anticipates the effect he desires, the demons' disappearance.
In contrast to that of the demons, Ong's own character becomes more sharply defined. When he first addresses the demons, he does not mention himself at all. Then, while invoking the gods, he refers to himself as their disciple, implicitly claiming awesome authority. He finally names himself while consecrating the substitute, where he says, "The master magician, Ong Phok-lam, has come to consecrate you." He has moved, then, from being a disembodied voice speaking for his patient, to the role of an anonymous disciple of the gods, to being-at last-a particular master of magic bearing an individual cult name. Unlike his patient's given name, his appellation resembles the gods' titles and implies personal achievement instead of ascribed status.
The development of Ong's character is, however, more complex than the demons' steady dissolution. He no sooner names himself, while consecrating the substitute, than he lapses once more into anonymity. In divining the demons' response, he is once again negotiating. Since he cannot simply drive the demons away through the exercise of authority, he now, in effect, disengages himself from this part of the ritual.
Then, in the final exorcism, he firmly identifies himself with the gods and says to his patient: "The gods come to save you, my teachers come to save you, I come to save you." Dramatically speaking, he now asserts his full identity as a Taoist tai hoat-su-precisely at the point where his gestures show him seizing the demons and casting them out.
Ong's rhetoric both reflects and embellishes the meanings attached to his gestures and the setting in which they occur. To summarize: the ways in which Ong verbally treats the substitute
negotiating with demons 157
and the gods define the poles of the cultural space in which Ong himself becomes an active, powerful, distinct personality, while the demons are becoming nameless, passive, and power- less. And beyond defining the space, his choice and use of images move the transformation along.
There still remains, however, the question of language itself. Besides performing various speech acts and using dramatic imagery to bring the ritual drama to life, Ong speaks in several different styles, with different degrees of formality. What roles do these different degrees of formality play? In part they are simply signals, with different degrees of formality signaling different degrees of respect.
the powers of formality
The names and titles in Ong's speeches vary from three to six syllables, depending on the rank of those to whom they refer. In the hierarchy established before the final exorcism, Ong's patient and the substitute occupy the lowest rank, with names of only three syllables. The demons' names have four syllables, the gods' titles either five or six. By referring to himself as the "Hoat-su Ong Phok Lam," Ong implicitly assigns himself a rank equivalent to that of the gods.
When Ong invokes the gods, his salutations preface their titles with polite phrases, either kin-chhia* ("earnestly invite") or pAi-chhia* ("bow and invite"). In contrast, when addressing the substitute, he omits these phrases and simply speaks its name. This pattern is peremptory. When he first speaks to the demons he begins with pAi-chhia*, expressing respect, but later, in divining their response, he omits this formula, and this omission clearly marks his shift to an imperious tone.
The work of Maurice Bloch (1974) suggests another perspective. According to Bloch, formalized language occurs in political situations where
thereseems to be no way whereby authority can bechallengedexcept by a total refusal to use the accepted form which is compulsory for this typeof occasion, that is, a total refusal of all political conventions. The ceremonial trappings of a highly formalized situation seem to catch the actors so that they are unable to resist the demands made on them. [I 974:59-601
Formalized language is, says Bloch, impoverished language. When language is formalized, the freedom to construct new utterances by choosing among syntactic, semantic, and stylistic variations is sharply restricted. Consequently, those who accept the use of this language have no way to reject its implications. The conventions governing its use imply participants' obedience. The ultimate type of formalized language is ritual language, which strictly repeats prescribed forms and allows no variation at all.
Bloch's theory has not gone unchallenged. Judith Irvine, in particular, warns that he tends to conflate three different senses of formality: "These senses have to do with whether formality concerns properties of a communicative code, properties of the social setting in which a code is used, or properties of the analyst's description" (1979:773). In applying Bloch's ideas to the languageof chil ngo-kui, I havedealtwith formality in only the first ofthese senses and restricted my attention to properties of the language itself.
Overall, Ong's speeches exhibit four degrees of formality, marked respectively by (1 the use of special vocabulary, (2)set phrases, (3)versification, and (4) formulaic constructions. If, using this scheme, we assign to each of the five steps in the rite the degree of formality of the most formal speech that occurs within it (setting aside for the moment different degrees of formality within a single speech), we can easily trace the ritual's progress from one degree of formality to another.
Beginning with Ong's opening address to the demons, which uses language of the second degree of formality, Ong's speech becomes increasingly formal. When divining the demons'
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response, it plunges to its lowest degree of formality. In the final exorcism it returns to the peak of formality.
The speeches in which Ong's language displays the two higher degrees of formality have two other characteristics as well. In them, Ong refers directly to himself, either as the gods' disciple or as a master magician. In both cases, too, the speech ends with the formula "Let divine soldiers, quickly as fire, obey lawful commands." This correlation of formality with authority also accounts for the more subtle differences between Ong's two speeches to the demons on the one hand, and those which distinguish the consecration of the substitute and the final exorcism from the invocation of the gods on the other. When Ong first addresses the demons, he appeals toequity whilepresentingofferings to them. In divining their response, heshifts to naked bribery and speaks in a more informal tone. When Ong invokes the gods, he solicits their cooperation; his authority is only borrowed. In contrast, when he consecrates the substitute, and, after the demons have accepted the offerings, proceeds to exorcise them, he claims authority in his own right. His language is now the most formal of all. Furthermore, while until now I have treated each speech as a unit, the rule that formality asserts authority seems to account for variations within speeches as well. Consider, for example, the consecration of the substitute, where formality peaks, but not uniformly throughout.
When Ong transfers sickness or misfortune from his patient to the substitute, he employs formulaic constructions such as the following:
Siong chhilj iu pi*; kui-li siong chhili khi. Her hands are sick; their sickness goes to you.
Siong kha iO pi*; kui-li siong kha khi. Her legs are sick; their sickness goes to you.
When, however, he instructs the substitute to claim his patient's identity, his language is straightforward, colloquial prose:
Hi6-e koa* mRg li sim-mih si Idi choan-se, Kio-cho Lim A-chu, Tang niAn, tang-gobh, tang-jit, tang-si IAi si*.
("When thoseofficials ask you when you were reborn, say you are Lim A-chu, born in such-and-such a year, such-and-such a month, such-and-such a day, such-and-such an hour.")
When Ong transfers sickness to the substitute, the substitute is sti II in his presence, and his words and gestures have just asserted his total authority over it. When, however, the substitute replies to "those officials," it will be in Hell, outside his control. Ong's words attribute to the substitute the freedom to answer the questions posed as it chooses. At this point, his authority is less than absolute, a fact reflected in the form of his words.
poetic vs. logical formality
To readings which suggest that formality either signals respect or imposes authority, we may add yet another. According to Tambiah, formulaic constructions are one of the mechanisms by which metaphors work. Tambiah writes of Trobriand spells that
a list of words is repeated in sequencewith changes in key expressions. The list is an enumeration of the constituent part parts of a canoe, or a yam house, or the anatomy of the performer. These words we may loosely call "substance words." The key expression is an action word or a verb. The logicof the recitation is that each part enumerated undergoes an event or process by which it acquires the desired attribute or quality. [I 968:l 91 ]
In her essay on llongot spells, Michelle Rosaldo advances a similar argument:
Through the use of diverse images in repeated formulaic lines, the practitioner highlights similarities among things that are ordinarily unrelated. By combining rich and vivid imagery with a limited and formulaic use of language, he creates a metaphorical order that conforms to his aspirations. He subordinates the natural world's diversity to a simple and compelling conception of a world that he, through magic, can control. [I 975:1781
negotiating with demons 159
Ong's formula, "Your disciple's X is sick, the sickness leaves her X," where X can be "head" or "heart" or "hands," for example, can thus be seen as a means of constructing a powerful image-a body free of illness. The magic resides in the emotions this powerful image evokes. As in classical forms of poetry, form brings music to meaning.
Weshould also note, however, that beyond their poeticformality-in which a seriesof images is embedded sequentially in the same formal frame-Ong's speeches also exhibit, albeit more rarely, a logical form of formality characteristic of demonstrations in mathematics and logic. In this type of formality, the terms remain the same and are repositioned in different frames.
Ong's opening address to the demons illustrates an informal, evidential style of argument. Recalling his patient's promise to the demons and asserting its fulfillment, he makes a series of assertions without elaborating the logic that links them. In contrast, in consecrating the substitute, he uses a more explicit logic. A mathematician might represent it as follows: Let P bethe proposition that Ong consecrates the substitute; let Q be the proposition thatthe substitute awakens and possesses magical powers; if not P, then not Q; if P, then Q; only if P, then Q. In sum, Ong's consecration is both necessary and sufficient to awaken the substitute and to endow it with magical powers.
Ong's argument is not, in fact, formalized to quite this degree. It does, however, share characteristic features with formal systems of logic. A small set of key terms-here, the phrases khai-kong and tiarn-gin, which refer to consecration, and the phrases sit-l&ng and sin-thong, which refer to awakening and magical powers-recur in a series of frames which highlight the logic which links them. Substituting P for khai-kong and tiam-gan and Q for sit-l6ng and sin-thong, we obtain the following version of Ong's argument:
BB P, bB Q. Not P, not Q.
10 P, iii Q. Have P, have Q.
10 P, li6u-au tian Q. After P, manifest Q.
Both poetic and logical formality have the same function. Both are claims to authority. Both add their own special force to the speech acts and imagery to make the exorcism compelling. One last, vital question remains: What, after all, is ritual? And what do we mean by calling chi. ngo-kui a rite?
rites of no return
In developing his thesis that ritual language represents an extreme formalization of speech and that it thus-by eliminating alternatives-compels those who accept its use to accept its message as well, Bloch builds on a widely held set of assumptions that can be summarized as follows: ritual is, by definition, a repetition of set forms, a return to established social or cosmological patterns; to achieve its intended effects, a ritual must be performed precisely as prescribed. These are, in effect, the same assumptions as those that Austin elaborated in defining the "performative act." Applied to the language of magic, they imply the familiar mythic view that the words of magical spells must be repeated exactly and, further, that by uttering spells the magician imposes the patterns they represent on events threatening disorder.
In recent years a number of studies have challenged this simplistic picture. By directing attention to discourse, performance and verbal art, these studies demand a more subtle appreciation of the many and varied rhetorical strategies used in magical rites.
The magician's stance and attitudes in one case may differ from those in another. The Kuna healer described by Sherzer (1990:239-265) narrates a tale of verbal combat in which he triumphs by demonstrating his detailed knowledge of the "snake" he wishes to control. There is no hint of offering or bargaining here. In contrast, consider the Aguaruna woman described by Brown, whose garden spell "hyperbolically describes the misery of the gardener and the
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sterility of her garden to almost the same extent that earlier songs extolled her infallibility and good fortune" (1985:llO). Her "poor little me" is a world away from the Kuna healer's confidence. It also contrasts sharply with other, more typical Aguaruna spells.
Structure and style may also vary sharply within, as well as between, cases. According to Brown, Aguaruna anen (spells that take the form of songs) rarely make use of commands. "lnstead, they consist primarily of descriptive statements about the singer or the future state of things after the singer's actions have taken effect" (Brown 1985:16&169). In this respect, anen resemble theTrobriand spells first published by Malinowski in 1935 and reanalyzed by Tambiah (1 968) and Weiner (1 984). But in contrast to anen, the most elaborate Trobriand spel Is exhibit a structure of three named parts: the u'ula, which sets the scene, announcing the major theme and invoking the mythical heroes and ancestors who first wielded its powers; the long, formulaic tapwana, which describes the effects the spell is intended to achieve; and the dogina, which announces their achievement (Tambiah 1968:190-191). Sinhalese exorcisms are even more complex: they begin and end with a prose mantra; in between are kannalava, chanted aloud in rhythmic prose, and kariya, which are rhymed verses. They include both "the language of command" and "the language of entreaty and persuasion" (Tambiah 1968:176).
In reading the text ofchi. ng6-klii, I have looked closely at the language used in one particular instance of Chinese ritual. In an effort to grasp its complexities, I have brought to this reading ideas reflecting several perspectives. The result is not a demonstration that any one of these perspectives is clearly superior. Neither is it, in any sense, "the native's point of view."19
Chi. ngo-klii is a minor rite, and the healer who performs it is a none-too-orthodox exemplar of the Taoist traditions he claims to represent. But in reading its text, what we have found is rhetorical subtlety no single approach to interpretation can more than briefly illuminate. There is, however, no cause for despair. Like the stories told by the blind men who touched different parts of the elephant, the various readings I have brought to bear are more complementary than contradictory. Combined, they form a complex picture that may, perhaps, "retain the persuasive clarity that went with the simple ones" (Geertz 1973:33).
We have witnessed a healer negotiating with demons, drawing them into a social contract that gives him authority over them. We have seen him use metaphor, verbally transforming the demons from amoral but powerful beings to nameless-and powerless-creatures. We have seen him manipulate levelsofformality-poetically and logically--in support ofthe impression he aims to foster. Instead of a rite of return, we have found a performance that first creates and then destroys relationshipja rite of no return in which, as Bauman and Sherzer (1 974) suggest, "the strategic and goal-directed manipulation of resources for speaking" has many and varied roles to play.
Acknowledgments. In preparing this article I have benefited from the comments of many people. Among those to whom I owea special debt ofgratitude are Robert). Smith, Julian Das, Huang Shu-min, James Ennis, John Clammer, the anonymous reviewers for the American Ethnologist, and Ruth and Kathryn McCreery, whoseencouragementto an anthropologist working beyond theacademic pale has been invaluable. Iwould also offer special thanks to Dr. Li Yih-yuan and theother members of the Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, without whose friendship and support the research reported here would have been impossible. Finally, I must express my gratitude toJane Huber, whose eagle eye for infelicities has polished the content of this article as well as the words in which I have tried to convey it.
The text (and most terms) presented here are recorded in the central Taiwan dialed of Amoy Hokkien using the romanization described by Father Thomas Carroll, S. J., in his "lntroduction to Pronunciation" in Vol. 1 of KO and Tsn, An Introduction to Taiwanese Colloquial (1 960). When Mandarin terms are cited in the text, they are indicated by an [MI following the romanization.
For a comprehensive listing and discussion of work in what has become a very lively field of historical studies, see Seidel 1991 .
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Bauman and Sherzer 1974, and Brenneis and Myers 1984 provide useful introductions to what is now a steadily growing literature. Besides the work of Metcalf, Field, and Sherzer, see also Brown on Aguaruna magic (1 984, 1985), Herzfeld on Cretan expressions of masculinity (1 985), and Keane (1 991).
Since the healer claims esoteric knowledge, we cannot assume that his terms and the audience's are identical.
This thought was stimulated, in part, by Tambiah's use of "performative" to characterize magic in his 1973 essay "The Form and Meaning of Magical Acts."Tambiah, like many other anthropologists, seems to conflate Austin's view of performative acts, which depend on meeting certain conditions established by social norms, with the larger notion of rhetorical force, which operates by invoking emotion through metaphors or other tropes. In this essay I have found it more useful todistinguish between them and consider their usefulness separately.
In this respect, the speeches used in che ng6-klii resemble those in the Iroquois thanking and beseeching rites described by Foster, where "the performative utterances establish what the speech as a whole is to accomplish, while the other minimal components work within the speech to validate the performatives" (in Bauman and Sherzer 1974:312).
The classification of the ritual specialists who perform in rites associated with Taoism and Chinese popular religion is in principle simple, in practice complex. Priests (Taiwanese: to-su; Mandarin: tao-shih) are in principle differentiated from Magicians (Taiwanese: hoat-su; Mandarin: fa-shih) by having inherited the right and been trained to perform large communal rites of renewal (Taiwanese: chio; Mandarin: chiao) that involve the use of written memorials and lists of gods known only to the priests. There is, however, an overlap, in that both priests and magicians perform a variety of lesser rites like the one described in this essay. In what is for practical purposes a free market in ritual services, there is no universal standard that defines how these rites should be performed. Some practitioners appeal to historical precedents, others to personal revelations; each claims that his own way of doing things is correct.
To reject possession is not unusual, Jordan notes that nearly all of the tdng-ki he encountered in a Bao-an, a village near Tainan, maintained "that they tried every possible inducement to persuade the possessing god to select someone else" (1 972:71).
Oddly enough because (1) Ong claims to be Taoist, and (2) the Buddha does not normally possess mediums.
The che in chP ng6-klii is sometimes written with a Chinese character that means "to propitiate" and sometimes that with another character means "to control." As shown here, these rites involve both propitiation and control.
Schipper (1 982:122-123) describes a similar shift in attitudes, from respect to authority, depending on whether the Taoist priest is facing in or out vis-a-vis thesacred space in which a communal riteof renewal is being performed.
For a fuller discussion ofthis point, seeMcCreery 1990.
Lagerway (1987:51-52) provides a vivid description.
It was Stephen Owen, a deep scholar of Chinese poetry, who in a personal communication suggested that the word ngo'(Mandarin: wo)is ambiguous and might mean either the god or the hoat-su who invokes him.
These details suggest a variety of cosmic and mythic associations. Thus, for example, the snake and the tortoise together form a mythical beast associated with the north and water as far back as the Han dynasty
(c. 200 E3.C.-A.D. 200). In Taiwan I was told by one informant that Hian-thian-siong-t6 was originally a butcher whose shop was beside a Buddhist temple. One morning, while listening to sutras being chanted by the monk who lived in the temple, he became enlightened. The monk, who turned out to be a Boddhisattva in disguise, led him to the seashore and invited him to mount a lotus, which was floating in the water. Feeling too weighted down by his sins-as a butcher he had killed sentient beings many times over-he used his butcher's knife to cut open his belly and tear out hisstomach and intestines. These became the tortoise and the snake. For a variant of this story and more information concerning Hib-thian-siong-te, see Gary Seaman's translation (1 987) of the popular novel Journey to the North, which describes this god's career.
A Taoist priest must learn to visualize in detail the gods whom he summons. His ability to summon their help depends on this power. See, for example, Lagerwey 1987, Saso 1977, and Schipper 1982.
My data do not include a good translation for the repeated phrase bu-kah.
See note 17.
If anything, it prompts us to conclude, as Bahktin has: Creative understanding does not renounce itself, its own place in time, its own culture; and it forgets nothing. In order to understand, it is immensely important for the person who understands to be located
outside theobject of his or her creative understanding-in time, in space, and culture. [I986:7] If, as Bahktin claims, understanding results from dialogue, it makes nosense to beone-sided in any direction.
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submitted August 3, 1992 revised version submitted April 28, 1993 accepted November 6, 1993
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